Cicilline & Doherty in Tossup: What to Watch For Down the Stretch
Thursday, October 11, 2012
Congressman David Cicilline again finds himself slightly ahead of Republican challenger Brendan Doherty, according to a Brown University poll released Wednesday.
In what is likely to be the final poll released before the November election, Cicilline held a 45.8 percent-40.3 percent lead over Doherty, a sign the first-term incumbent has successfully tied his opponent to the national Republican Party while pivoting away from his record as Mayor of Providence, experts say.
“The Brown University survey is good for Congressman Cicilline,” said Darrell West, vice president and director of governance studies and director of the center for technology innovation at the Brookings Institution. “It confirms what other polls have shown, which is that Cicilline has fought back to a leading position. He has successfully framed the campaign as a referendum on Mitt Romney and the national Republican Party. By linking Doherty to the GOP, Cicilline has turned the race into a choice between two visions as opposed to a referendum on his own performance. That appears to be a winning strategy for Cicilline. He is in the driver’s seat in this campaign.”
Little Change in Numbers
The poll, which some criticized for taking place over the course of 10 days, surveyed 236 registered voters in the 1st Congressional District and came with a margin of error of 6.3 percent. A similar poll released by WPRI last week gave Cicilline a 6.6 percent edge over Doherty. Previously, Cicilline’s campaign released several polls that also showed him with a lead over the Republican.
But that doesn’t mean Doherty, who has released two negative commercials attacking the former Mayor’s handling of Providence’s finances over the last two weeks, should be counted out, according to Brown political science professor Wendy Schiller.
“I do not see a whole lot of change from the last poll,” Schiller said. “He is still leading by close to 6 points which means that Doherty's advertising has not yet taken hold strongly enough to shift a lot of voters. He has focused on the ‘character’ issue, which is clearly Cicilline's biggest weakness, but it does not seem to be undermining Cicilline's lead. The good news in the poll for Doherty is that his support levels do not appear to have declined all that much. But if Doherty can hold his support, peel away votes from the independent candidate, and win over the undecideds, he would be in a competitive position to win the seat.”
For Doherty to overtake Cicilline, Schiller said, he has to shift gears and start talking about what he would do specifically as a Congressman so that voters understand what they are replacing Cicilline with in terms of advocacy for the district and policy positions. To date, Cicilline has been able to tie Doherty to Romney, who trails President Obama by 26 points in Rhode Island, according to the same poll.
“He has to really articulate where he stands on key issues to Rhode Island voters and I think he has to do more of that,” Schiller said.
Re-running Last Election Won’t Be Enough
So what should Rhode Islanders expect from both campaigns over the final month?
Profughi agreed that poll results were similar to others released in recent weeks and said all signs point to a “fairly close race at this point in time,” but he also noted that Cicilline has kept the Doherty campaign on its toes.
“Credibility and job performance still represent Cicilline's biggest concerns, but continuing to run his campaign against Romney and for Obama is a plus that will keep his opponent on the defensive,” he said.
The two sides are scheduled to have their first televised debate next Tuesday evening at the Providence Performing Arts Center.
Separately, Wednesday’s poll showed incumbent Congressman James Langevin and first-term Senator Sheldon Whitehouse continue to hold significant leads over their Republican challengers. The poll also reflected favorably on President Obama’s handling of the economy, but found that more than 93 percent of voters believe Rhode Island’s economy is in not-so-good or poor condition.
The poll gave Providence Mayor Angel Taveras the highest favorability rating in the state (65.6 percent) while General Treasurer Gina Raimondo was second with 58.7 percent favorability. Senator Jack Reed, who is not up for re-election this year, was the only other local politician with an approval rating higher than 50 percent. At 18.3, House Speaker Gordon Fox had the lowest approval numbers of all politicians polled.